Washington Report, August 2005, pages 55-56
CAIR Fundraiser Spotlights Civil Rights
|High school student Wafa Unus was recognized for her work organizing Muslim youth (Staff photo D. Hanley).|
THE MARYLAND/VIRGINIA chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held an awards and fund-raising banquet June 4 at the Sheraton Premier Hotel in Tysons Corner, VA. The audience heard a presentation about Bridges Television, North America’s first Muslim cable/
satellite channel, which is now available in the Washington, DC area. This English-language nationwide television channel provides entertainment and programming to American Muslims and non-Muslim Americans interested in Islam and Muslim culture. Bridges TV hopes to build bridges of understanding and friendship between American Muslims and mainstream Americans.
S. Saqib Ali, a community activist from Potomac, MD, urged Muslims to get involved and run for public office. Ali has been featured in Washington Post articles, including a Washington Post Magazine cover story and a news article, entitled “Driving While Plastered,” about campaigning in a car covered with Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) bumper stickers. “We need to engage in partisan politics,” Ali said. “We must groom Muslims to get elected to public office, and support them with our time and money.” Read more about Ali—who is bound to be running for public office himself soon—at <www.saqibali.org>.
Muneer A. Baig, who received an award for political activism in Prince William County, VA, agreed with Ali, saying, “The time to keep quiet is over. Speak up for a fair and inclusive America.”
Another award winner, Wafa Unus, a graduating senior at Herndon High School in Virginia, and editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, is doing just that.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) was introduced as someone who has “attended so many Muslim events since 9/11 that people think he’s Muslim.” The African-American congressman blasted the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act and compared the Muslim-American experience today with growing up in Baltimore, MD during the civil rights era.
When he was 8, Cummings said, he was denied entry to his Olympic-sized white-only neighborhood pool. “I was confused,” he recalled. “Either I was being denied my rights as a punishment, or I had no rights.” When he and other children began to protest, marching up and down near the pool, adults threw bottles, sticks and stones. He still has a scar on his forehead from being hit by a bottle. “Why would adults do that to children?” he asked. Eventually the pool was integrated.
“No one group is superior to others,” he reminded the Muslim audience. “If one person in this nation is treated unfairly we shouldn’t be able to sleep at night... Some of us in Congress stand with you as brothers and sisters. All of us in America have a responsibility to stand up....What we do or don’t do today will impact this country for the next 100 years. This is our watch,” Cummings concluded to enthusiastic applause.
Nihad Awad, CAIR’s executive director, explained how the organization has turned the crisis of the desecration of the Qur’an into a positive opportunity. CAIR now offers free Qur’ans to Americans who want to understand Islam. More than 6,000 requests from curious and open-minded Americans have flooded in. “This is the time to be visible, acting, engaging and positive,” Awad said. “We can’t let only violent extremists define Muslims.”
Chaplain James “Yusuf” Yee, a Chinese-American West Point graduate who converted to Islam in 1991, was next to speak. Yee became a U.S. Army Muslim chaplain in January 2001. In September 2003 he was accused of spying and aiding Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, where he served as a chaplain, and was held in a naval prison for 76 days. He finally was cleared of all criminal charges and has since resigned from the Army. He is now writing a book, For God and Country, about becoming a victim of the post-9/11 paranoia that grips America.
Professor David Cole, author of Enemy Aliens, said that after 9/11, 80,000 Arab- and Muslim-Americans were asked to register with Homeland Security, and more than 5,000 foreign nationals detained because they were suspected of terrorism. Some of these were arrested and tried in secret, he noted, while most detainees were never charged.
“How many of these Muslim- and Arab-Americans have been convicted of terrorism?” Cole asked. “None.”
Nonetheless, 500 foreign nationals were deported. Indeed, he added, there were 300 criminal convictions, for crimes like fraud—with a median punishment of 14 days served. Professor Cole painted a grim picture of the constitutional rights that have been lost in the name of a war on terror.
On the upside, Cole said, in the past courts have upheld civil rights and not bowed to government pressure. And today, he concluded, “literally dozens of respected organizations are speaking out for the vulnerable.”
—Delinda C. Hanley